In 1942 visionary aircraft designer, Barnes Wallis, hit upon the idea of designing a very special bomb that would bounce across water like a skimming stone and destroy Nazi dams. The raid in May 1943 helped change the course of the Second World War and Wallis and the flyers were hailed as heroes and immortalised as "The Dambusters".
Now, almost 70 years later, Channel 4 is to recreate the famous bombing raid, not in a dramatic reconstruction, but in an experiment of a lifetime.
The bouncing bomb was an incredible technical achievement involving extremely difficult engineering problems. But nobody really knows exactly how Wallis actually did it. Little survives of his original calculations, designs and results, and vital papers were lost in a flood in the 1960s. However, a tantalising photograph from 1942 survives showing initial experiments in his back garden.
Our modern-day Barnes Wallis' is engineer Dr Hugh Hunt, a fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, who mirrors Wallis's approach and examines how Wallis overcame a series of engineering hurdles. Hugh conducts his early experiments in Cambridge; bouncing balls across swimming pools and launching barrels across lakes. He then travels to Mackenzie in British Columbia where a 30-feet high and 130-feet wide dam is under construction. A vintage Second World War DC4 has been modified to carry a spinning ‘bomb' the size of an oil drum. Hugh meets the fearless pilots of Buffalo Airways who, despite their experience in flying vintage aircraft in the harsh conditions of Canada's North Western Territories, have never attempted anything like this before. They will have to fly a mere 60 feet above the surface of the lake and drop the bomb at precisely the right moment to blow the dam to smithereens. No CGI, no special effects, this is for real.
By challenging present-day experts to follow in Barnes Wallis's footsteps, this documentary sheds new light on how he created the bouncing bomb and what it must have been like for the original Dambusters. The end result promises to be truly spectacular.